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Sitting up in the darkness, Walt Gaines, his naked body sheeny with sweat, pushed aside the mosquito netting that canopied his cot and pulled on a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and his mud-encrusted Tevas. For a man pushing sixty, Walt, who had played varsity football and lacrosse at Middlebury back in his undergraduate days, looked tough and hardy, and he was: at six-one, two hundred pounds, he still had most of his hair, it was still mostly light brown, rather than gray, and his face, despite the lines etched across it from years of toiling in the sun, was surprisingly youthful. People who didn't know his age, upon meeting him for the first time, often took him to be five or six years younger.
In the cot next to his, Jocelyn, his wife, stirred but didn't awaken. As she breathed, steadily and slowly, her thin nostrils fluted out the faintest nasal snore, a delicate, almost musical rasp, like the buzzing of a far-off bumblebee. A woman whose mind and spirit were perpetually in harmony (unlike her husband, who was ever-restless, a man who, by comparison, would make Odysseus look like a layabout), Jocelyn could sleep through storms, hurricanes, even, her husband firmly believed, the wrath of God.
Thirty years of togetherness behind them, and Walt was still amazed by his life- mate's equanimity. It was a wonderful counterbalance to his own headstrong energy. One of the many reasons they had been a good team. Marriages don't last as long as theirs had without the important gears meshing. As Walt watched her he thought back on their thirty years of togetherness. Thirty years! Jesus. Thirty years ago, the Beatles had barely broken up. Thirty years was forever, and at the same time it was yesterday, which in some ways, it was: they still made love like they had when they'd first met, passionately and a lot. Walt was grateful to the gods of sex that he continued to be turned on by his wife; he knew too many men his age who weren't, and what that led to. Okay, so Jocelyn was wider in the hips and ass than when she was a girl, but you had to expect that, Jane Fonda's ass was bigger when she turned fifty, too. Jocelyn's body was damn good for a fifty-year-old woman who'd had three children. She was another reason-the most important one, he knew-that he'd stayed young, especially in spirit.
Their coming together had been a volcanic eruption. Walt was thirty, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, when he met Jocelyn. She was twenty, a junior at the university, a student in his Introduction to Pre- Columbian Civilization course. They had been white-hot for each other from the first day of that long-ago spring semester when she'd entered his classroom, sat down in the front row, and, braless, leaned forward to get her notebook out of her pack. He had looked away, then back, and she was staring at him. That afternoon they had coffee, that night they made love. It was great, and in the morning it was even better. A week later, she moved in with him.
Partway through Jocelyn's senior year, she got pregnant. She took it more calmly than he did. To his surprise, she didn't want an abortion. More surprisingly, she didn't want to have the child outside of marriage. That was a relief to him- getting involved with a student was bad enough, knocking her up was even worse, but to have a love child? He wasn't sure if the administration would be liberal enough to let that go, even though he was one of their golden boys, a rising star. They got married over the spring holidays-she received her diploma showing a belly as big as a watermelon. That summer, their first son, Clancy, was born. Having a child completed Jocelyn's maturation process. She quit smoking marijuana-gave up drugs altogether- and became a card-carrying grown-up. Two years later, they had another boy, who they named Tom, and a year and a half after that, Will, their third and last child, was born.
Walt loved his sons, but he would have liked a daughter. Jocelyn, though, was happy with boys. No hidden agendas, no subterfuge. She knew all about girls' perfidies-hadn't she snagged Walt, the glamorous professor who all the undergraduate girls had drooled over? After Clancy was born Jocelyn went back to school, got her master's, and then, after having her other boys, finished her Ph.D., in sociology. The school offered an instructorship and then an assistant professorship. She didn't shine in her field like Walt did in his-few do-but she was good, she was solid. And everyone who knew her loved her; she was a genuine sweetheart.
The professors Gaines had a good marriage. It had lasted. Stepping outside their small dwelling, Walt inhaled the night's sweet, almost cloying perfumes and looked around at the familiar surroundings, a group of small, thatch-roofed huts that were clustered in the clearing. Besides those used for sleeping-volunteer diggers were generally bunked four to a hut, although five or six could be squeezed in if there were more workers than space-there was a communications center/ kitchen, an open dining pavilion, and two large buildings for storage. Solar-heated showers were located outside, back behind the main building. It was a rudimentary, simple system, but it worked.
The complex had been built over the past three years, from scratch. The small area where the buildings were situated had been hacked out of the jungle by a native crew of chicleros-men who roam the dense forest looking for rubber trees. One of them had discovered this site by accident, which is often how important ruins in Central America are found: he was looking for rubber trees in a remote, unexplored section of the jungle, and had stumbled upon it by accident. The site had been named La Chimenea because the tallest pyramid was shaped like a chimney.
The tight little living structures were similar to the dwellings in which the Maya had lived, on this very spot, over fifteen hundred years ago. The walls were made of thin tree trunks-trumpet trees mostly- held together with strangler vines (and baling wire), and the high-pitched roofs-tight, dense, virtually waterproof-were constructed from bay leaf palms, woven together in a tight mosaic. The few modern conveniences were rough-poured concrete floors, screened windows, and the propane and diesel tanks that powered their electric needs, their computers and other communication devices, and for kitchen essentials like ice. The student-volunteers who stayed and worked here pissed in the jungle and crapped in holes in the ground. They loved it.
Walt had been taking tours to archaeological sites throughout Central and South America for more than two decades. During semester breaks he had led field trips that typically ran for two or three weeks. These groups were comprised of about twenty people, mostly students, but also older people who were interested in archaeology and wanted an experience off the beaten track. The tours hopscotched from ruin to ruin: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras. Two or three days at a location, then moving on to the next one. It was grueling, all that bounc-ing around on terrible roads in hundred-degree heat, but they covered a lot of ground.
Jocelyn had often accompanied him, especially after their sons had reached adulthood and no longer needed her attention and supervision. These field trips had been important in helping him and Jocelyn supplement their incomes. Being university professors, they were comfortably middle-class, but they liked to live nicely. The income they'd put away from these trips helped augment their modest portfolio of conservative mutual funds.
Once La Chimenea had been discovered, however, and Walt had been given the responsibility of developing it, he stopped conducting these short tours. All his time and energy became concentrated on the site. Being invited to participate alongside him was rigorous and competitive-hundreds of applications flooded Walt's office every term. From these he carefully selected a privileged handful: prime graduate students from universities all over the country, mixed in with a few of his own overachieving underclassmen.
There was one big difference between these groups and the shorter trips he had led in the past. Nondegree applicants were rarely accepted. There were too many candidates who were deserving and needful of studying in the field under the guidance of the renowned Walt Gaines. They had been on-site for almost three months this time around. After flying to La Chimenea and settling in, they had immediately begun working their butts off. It was hard, meticulous, backstiffening labor, like spending eight hours a day taking a splinter out of a baby's foot- you had to be so delicate. A meter-square quadrant at a time, carefully lifting the dirt, sifting it, brushing it one fragment of a pot shard after another.
The students' attitudes had changed considerably from when they had first arrived at the site. That always happened-it was a rite of passage, especially for those who had never actively worked on a dig. At the start, when they were all bright-eyed and full of gung-ho exuberance, they would take copious notes when Walt would lecture on the day's findings. Then they would all get together for communal dinner, drink beer, and talk. It was like being in the best and most exciting summer camp in the world. They loved it, even when it hurt like hell.
By the end of the first week, though, when they'd had bellyfuls of work under their belts, the note-taking became more desultory. Days of painstaking toil under the hot, unrelenting sun made them too exhausted to make much of an effort, and their notepaper turned to mush in the heavy, oppressive vegetal moisture. Besides, being here wasn't about learning from books, observing a subject from a distance through an abstract prism. This was learning by way of your calluses, performing hard, meticulous, grinding work. The expectation was no longer a good grade and being part of history-making, as it had been when they signed up. Their desires became immediate and mundane-a cold beer at the end of the day, a change into dry clothes. Maybe sex, if you got lucky. In that regard a loose decorum was observed, which was breached easily and without fuss-those who needed privacy would disappear into the jungle for an hour at the end of the workday.
Now, their summer of work was over. Everyone except Walt was sleeping-they were exhausted. The last few days had been spent cataloguing the work they'd done here on-site, gathering the items they were allowed to remove for study, and securing their tools, photo equipment, all their various and sundry gear they were bringing back home. Walt wasn't wearing his watch, but he could tell from the position of the moon that it was well past midnight. From out of the darkness came the cacophony of the jungle: howler monkeys screeching in the trees, cries of predatory cats like puma, calls of frogs, insects, other nocturnal animals. After decades of living in the jungle, Walt's mind, on a conscious level, had adjusted to tuning out the noise. Now, though, he wished to hear every sound as clearly and distinctly as he could. He wanted all his sensations to be acutely tuned in, this last night before departing.
Savoring the feeling, he was still for a moment. Then he switched on his flashlight and set off for the center of La Chimenea, half a mile away.
Despite the lateness of the hour it was powerfully hot out, and as humid as the inside of a Turkish bath-the normal state of affairs for this time of year. Earlier, shortly before sundown, it had rained, a hard, fast downpour. That was another of Walt's concerns-that his small convoy reach the paved road before the skies opened tomorrow. This was the rainy season; it rained almost every day. An hour or two, usually in the late afternoon. That didn't matter when they were here, on site; but to get stuck in the middle of the jungle in a downpour could screw things up badly, even though the vans they were traveling in had four-wheel drive. There's a point where even four-wheel drive won't cut through the deep, sucking mud. That's the point where you can find yourself in serious trouble.
Walt didn't want to think about that now. He'd deal with whatever came up, when and if it happened. He always did. He walked along the narrow path that cut through the thick growth and high trees, taking care to avoid the thorn trees that can pierce flesh worse than saguaro cactus. The thin beam of light from his flashlight was a slender knife-cut through the darkness, a darkness so deep he could almost feel it, like a cloak around his body. He was careful to stay on the path; so close was the jungle that in twenty minutes, if you didn't pay attention, you could be hopelessly lost and at the mercy of the elements. Tourists had gone lost at sites as developed as Tikal and Palenque. La Chimenea, by contrast, was almost virgin, a small clearing surrounded by dense, threatening jungle.
Walt relished these moments of being alone. He could let his mind go wherever it wanted, conjure up all kinds of magnificent visions, the stuff of dreams: what the life here was like in those long-ago times when this wouldn't have been jungle, but a bustling metropolis. He had originally come to Central America on a whim, between his junior and senior years in college. He had been fired from his summer construction job for showing up drunk, so he had gone down to Tikal, in Guatemala, with a friend from Princeton who was studying archaeology. It was going to be a vacation, a lark; but instead, from the moment he climbed to the top of the highest temple and looked out over the endless jungle, the rest of his life had fallen into place: he had discovered his life's work. He went to graduate school at Penn, got his Ph.D., started teaching at Wisconsin, met Jocelyn, married her, became renowned in his field. And fathered three boys.
Thinking of his sons brought him back to the present. He missed them. He'd be glad to see them in a couple of days, when he and Jocelyn were back home and they'd all get together again. They were grown now, they were capable men, but they would always be his boys. He felt the jaguar's presence before he saw it. He didn't know what it was, precisely, that he was sensing, but he knew it was something extraordinary. It was as if one of the ancient kings of this city-state had suddenly materialized here; that's how powerful the jaguar's proximity felt to him. The rest of the jungle knew it, too-the sounds had died away, almost as a homage.
Slowly, he looked up. And there it was, lying on a thick tree branch twenty feet above him, right over him, its head between its big paws, looking down at him. The great cat, the lord of the new world. It was a male-he could tell from the size.
Excerpted from Fallen Idols by J. F. Freedman Copyright © 2003 by Chesapeake Films, Inc.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted December 9, 2008
The finding of the Mayan ruin La Chimenea is the epitome of an already illustrious career for archeology team Dr. Walt Gaines and his beloved spouse Jocelyn. As they work the dig he thinks back over his three decades of marriage and their three adult sons. He knows his wife has kept him young. However, their glorious moment ends tragically when thugs kill Jocelyn and loot much of the find. Even bringing her remains to Wisconsin for cremation is an ordeal as cops from both countries imply that Walt arranged the murder of his wife. <P>One year later, Walt has pieced together what really happened in Central America, but keeps the truth from the law and his three sons. His suddenly rich and living in California lifestyle includes a new girlfriend closer in age to his children. His silence leads to his three sons to wonder if their father killed their mother. The trio makes inquiries that links Walt¿s affluence to a Mayan artifact black market. They speculate that their mother learned what their father was doing and threatened to expose his nefarious dealings so he had her silenced. Now what to do with what they believe they know. <P>Though at times quite suspenseful and filled with an interesting closing twist, readers will have to accept that the three sons could coax information from various sources known for protecting clients. The story line shines in Central America and those scenes when the threesome suspects that their father is a spousal killer. Though there are many inane details that subtract from the tale, J. F. Freedman has written an entertaining suspense thriller. <P>Harriet Klausner
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2005
This book was not good at all. The story went in circles. The random unrelated sex passages threw the story off and added little to the overall plot. Not even worth the $5.68 I paid for it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 26, 2003
This is the first book of his that I have read..maybe the last. It was good up to a point, but I found it hard to relate to the father and sons (especially the sons) who held their mother in such high regard..okay, mothers ARE special, but then when they found out that she had been the instigator of all the financial troubles, etc., they still revered her...the father was a wimp of the first water...it was hard to believe that the two sons would go off to the wilds of the jungle and see the bandit leader..what a let down! It was almost as if the author just got tired of his own prose and decided to end it and wrap it up in one neat package.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2008
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Posted May 8, 2012
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